The lowdown on color laser printers

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In living color

What are they? A color laser printer uses laser beams and static electricity to apply color toner to photoconductive drums. When paper passes through a pair of heated rollers, or fusers, the toner melts, fusing with the paper fibers. Personal models have dropped dramatically in price over the past 18 months.

How much should I pay for one? Between $300 and $999, depending on the extras you require. Features such as auto-duplexing or extra input/output trays can boost the price by hundreds of dollars.

What are its main benefits? Speed, good resolution, excellent text and good-to-excellent graphics rendering at relatively low cost.

What are its drawbacks? Very few, unless you want to move one around (they're heavy). Entry-level lasers probably shouldn't be relied on for high-quality photo printing. If you print a lot of photos, you may want to invest in a low-cost, dedicated photo ink-jet printer as a companion piece.

Must-know info? At current sub-$1,000 prices, expect to buy a four-pass model, which can render fast black-and-white text pages but relatively slow color pages. While you can also buy a faster, one-pass version for under $1,000, you'll almost certainly have to pass up some extras that would be nice to have with a faster printer. By the end of this year, color lasers will cost even less and eventually be suitable for rendering color photographs for all but the most discerning eye.

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